Fire and Ash (Immortal Touch) (2 page)

“One
…what?” The blond’s aristocratic British inflection revealed nothing, but Tristan knew very well that he understood the implication. This would have to be handled with the utmost tact unless he wanted a fight on his hands. And he most certainly did not.

“Please don’t be alarmed
…I haven’t come here to cause you any trouble. This visit is purely social.”


Do you know him?” the blond asked Eva, who shook her head in denial.


I am an immortal, the same as you.” How could neither of them have noticed what was so blatantly obvious?


Holy shit,
” the girl breathed softly. She looked anxiously at her protector, who seemed to be just as shaken as she was.

He took advantage of the silence. “Maybe I should begin by introducing myself. My name is Tristan Kendall. I already know your name
s - I had to ask around Brightwood to find out your address. I hope that was all right.”

The man - Julian Winter, according to the information
garnered from a chatty woman in the community’s tiny post office - took a deep breath, then slowly exhaled. He looked stunned. “I always thought I was the only one.”

“Not at all,” Tristan
assured him. “There are a number of us, a very
small
number to be precise, but you are most definitely not alone. We maintain our secrecy extremely well, thanks to Reid. He’s the elder of the group and the…I suppose you would say, the governing force. I’ve been sent to welcome you on his behalf.”

“There are more
...” Still in shock, Julian shook his head in disbelief.

“Yes. There are more.”

The redhead spoke up then. “How did you find out about us?”


Well, that’s an easy enough trick. You see, I’ve always had the ability to sense other vampires,” he explained. “A unique gift of mine. I can feel their energy. When you became one of us, Miss Spencer, I was aware of it right away.” He transferred his attention to the male. “You, on the other hand, were somehow able to escape me. In more than eighty years of utilizing this talent, you’re the only one I was ever unaware of. Unable to reach. And I can’t for the life of me figure out why that is.”

“I’m sure I couldn’t say.” The couple exchanged glances, leaving him to wonder if they knew more than they were letting on.

“Would you like to have a seat?” the girl offered. “I’d be happy to fix you some coffee.”


Thank you, I appreciate that. I’ll pass on the coffee though.” He followed them into the living room, taking a seat in a recliner next to the sofa where the couple settled closely together. The three of them sat warily eyeing one another until suddenly, as if through some simultaneous epiphany, they all began to laugh.

“This is a rather awkward situation, I realize,”
Tristan acknowledged.

“It is…unexpected, I
admit,” Julian agreed. “You say you can
sense
other vampires?”

“That’s right. I can visualize their surroundings.
It was a little difficult to track you down, Miss Spencer, because you kept changing location. When I first became aware of you, you were way off in Nethy Bridge, Scotland.”

“We did
recently return from there.”

Tristan noticed the ring on her left hand. “Forgive the intrusive question, but
may I ask if you two are engaged to be married?”

“Yes, we are.”

“I’m assuming then, Mr. Winter, that you’re the one responsible for her alteration?”

“I am
,” he confirmed.

“Interesting.”

“Why do you seem surprised?” Eva asked.

“Oh, it’s not surprising exactly…it’s just that few of us tend to choose that way of life. There’s actually only one other married couple in our circle.” He laughed ruefully. “Now that I think about it, it’s probably because the majority of our members are male. Most of us prefer unlimited freedom. No offense intended, of course. I congratulate you on your upcoming nuptials.”

“Thank you.” She smiled politely.

“I’m curious about something.
If I managed to escape your talent, then how were you able to tell that I was also a vampire?” Julian wanted to know.

“I couldn’t smell your blood. Haven’t you noticed that my blood has no scent to you?”

“It hadn’t occurred to me, no, but now that you mention it…”

“You had me worried there, for a minute. I was afraid you might become hostile. Our males tend to be…combative.
I’m merely a representative for the group - I personally have no taste for violence. You might call me the black sheep.” There were other things he’d been called, but none he cared to repeat. If it weren’t for Reid’s protection, he might have been decapitated years ago. He held no false illusion that he was safeguarded out of loyalty or friendship. Rather, it was his rare psychic ability that was coveted.

“You have nothing to fear from me. You did say you were sent here to welcome us? Please explain.”

“Well, as I said before, we’re a small and exclusive group. There are very few left of our kind. To be perfectly honest, it’s preferable that way. The consequences of our discovery would be disastrous. For that reason, we’re forbidden to bring newcomers into the circle without express prior permission from Reid. Obviously, though, you wouldn’t have had any way of knowing that.”


No, I wouldn’t…just exactly how many are there?”

“I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to divulge that information. Any
detailed questions you have - and I’m sure you probably have plenty - will have to be addressed by Reid. It’s for everyone’s protection. Even immortals need structure. Otherwise there would be anarchy.” He hesitated. “May I ask you something, Mr. Winter?”

“Please, call me Julian. Yes, go ahead.”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-three.”

“I can see I phrased that wrong. What I meant to say was, how long have you been among the privileged few?”


Privileged few.
What a distinguished way of defining it.” Julian chuckled. “But to answer your question, I lost my mortal life thirty years ago.”

“I see.” Tristan was
immensely relieved to hear that he wasn’t very old. At least Reid’s spot as alpha wouldn’t be threatened. Maybe conflict could be avoided with these two, after all. “And the one who created you?”

“He is no longer among us,” was the ambiguous response.

“I see,” Tristan repeated. “Well, I’ll ask you no more on the subject. Whatever happened between the two of you is your own business.”

“I appreciate that.”

“I should probably get to the point of my visit. Mr. Reid has requested an audience with the two of you - all expenses paid, of course. He owns a vacation resort in north Florida and it would please him if you could find the time to spend a few days there as his guests. I used to live in the area myself - the beaches are spectacular. He’s suggested sometime around the first of March, if that would be convenient for you. You don’t want to go much later than that. Once spring break starts, the traffic’s a nightmare.”

The
couple looked at each other skeptically.

“If for some reason you’re unable to make the trip, Ash
er…ah, Mr. Reid can make arrangements to meet you here,” he hastily added. “If that’s preferable to you.”

“I don’t see why we couldn’t make the trip to
Florida.” Julian turned to Eva. “What do you say, darling? Are you up for it?”

“Sure, sounds
like fun. We’ll be back from visiting my mom way before then.”

Tristan’s head
snapped in Eva’s direction. “Your mother? Miss Spencer, may I know if she has been made aware of your…condition?”
Please tell me you weren’t that careless…

“Well, no. She doesn’t know.”

“I assume you had no intention of telling her.” He stated it more as a directive.

“We did not,” Julian
quickly confirmed.

Satisfied
, Tristan nodded. “Good. Between you and me, that would be an extraordinarily bad move. One of the foremost covenants is that we maintain complete secrecy, with no exceptions. I don’t mean to sound in any way overbearing, but as I said before, there must be laws. And unfortunately this one has always been non-negotiable.”


Understood. So…first of March, then?”

“Why don’t you give me your email address before I leave so Reid can send you the travel details?”

“Certainly. Would you care to stay for dinner, Mr. Kendall?”

“I appreciate the invitation, but I really should return to
Portland. My flight leaves first thing in the morning.” To be honest, he wanted to call Asher as soon as possible. To put his mind at ease, reassure him that there was no reason to go off the deep end here. Before he got it in his stubborn head that extermination was necessary.

“Where do you live?” Eva inquired.

“San Francisco. I own a four-star restaurant there,” he told her with pride.

“Really? What sort?”

“California cuisine mostly, with a Mediterranean influence.”

“I don’t suppose fresh blood is on the menu,” she joked.

He laughed. “No, I’m afraid I’d be hard put to find any customers who share our singular tastes.” Reaching into the back pocket of his slacks, he retrieved his wallet and handed her a business card from inside. “If you’re ever in the area, stop by.” Sweet little thing, she was. He could easily see why her originator was smitten with her.

And her with him.

“Thank you.” Her bright eyes scanned the card. “
Palamara Mediterranean Grill.
Sounds divine.”

“My email and phone number,” Julian
interjected, handing him a card of his own.


Excellent. Well, I’m sure I’ve taken up enough of your time.” He stood. This was his cue to leave. “I should get back to the hotel. It was a pleasure making your acquaintance - both of you. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but you’ve put my mind at ease. I was initially a little concerned that we might have some rogue vampire running amok. The last thing our kind needs is notoriety.”

“Trust me, we’re all in complete agreement on that issue
,” Julian concurred.

“I apologize again if I frightened you, Miss Spencer.”

“Forget it. I guess there really is no easy way to bring up something like that, is there?”

“If there is, I have yet to learn it. You can expect to hear from Mr. Reid in the near future. Again, it was a pleasure meeting you both.”

“Likewise. Feel free to drop in, anytime.”

Tristan nodded
at the male, then turned to Eva. “Best wishes, Miss Spencer. You’ll make an absolutely ravishing bride.”

“Have a safe trip back.”
She smiled once more.

An
odd thing to say to an immortal, but he appreciated her concern nonetheless. What an unexpected breath of fresh air, to be able to receive new members who were so cultured and civilized. It was a shame they couldn’t all be this nonthreatening.

Once inside the rental car he phoned
Asher, who answered almost immediately.

“So how’d it go?”
He was munching tactlessly on something crunchy. Pistachios, more than likely - he loved them. The noise was irritatingly loud in Tristan’s ear and he held the phone several inches away from his head.

“Actually it went very well.
Nice couple. They both seem to have their heads on straight.”

“For now. Who was the male with her?”

“He was the source.”

“That’s what I
thought. Did you figure out why you weren’t able to sense him?”

Reluctantly, he confessed, “No. I’m afraid I have no explanation for that.”

“Mm. I don’t like it.”
Crunch, crunch, crunch.
“And his own conversion - what’s the story behind that?”

“Thirsty years converted
, so he’s fairly young. Says his originator is no longer among us. So no worries there.”

“Good.
But I still don’t like the fact that he’s untraceable.”

“Honestly, Ash, I don’t think
it’s going to be a problem. The two of them are engaged to be married. As long as I can keep tabs on her, we’ll know right where he is.”

There was a long silence. Then, “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

“They agreed to meet with you around the first of March. I’ll email you his personal information.”


Okay.”
Crunch, crunch.


That is the date you requested, isn’t it?”


Mm-hm. As long as you don’t foresee any issues in the meantime.”

“Not at all.”

“I’m putting my trust in your judgment here, Kendall. There better not be any problems with them between now and then or it’s
your
ass. You got that?”

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